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Men on Paternity Leave Are Slackers at Home

Vivia Chen

February 29, 2012

© klickerminth - Fotolia.comThe good news is that paternity leave is getting more attention. The not-so-good news is that men aren't really taking care of the baby when they take time off. In fact, many are using the time to do more work.

That's the finding in a recently released study by University of Virginia professor Steven Rhoads and his son Christopher Rhoads, who teaches at the University of Connecticut. The study, which appears in Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, surveyed 181 married, heterosexual, tenure-track professors with small children.

Here's the real stunner in the report, reports UVa Today:

Only three of 109 male faculty members surveyed reported that they did half or more of the care, while 70 of 73 women reported doing at least half. On average, both men and women professors reported that the mother did more than half the work for all 25 of the child care tasks. This result holds even when the male professor's wife works full-time.

The female professors also reported higher average enjoyment scores than males on 24 of the 25 child care tasks. (The sole exception was managing the division of labor for parenting tasks, which men disliked less than women.)

So men favor "managing" the work—not the actual messy job of parenting. That's nice.

Interestingly, the report suggests that paternity leave be eliminated, because men are using it to further their careers, thereby creating greater inequity for women who actually take time off. Here's how UVa Today describes this thinking:

"In this area, refusal to take sex differences seriously, rather than helping women, leads to a policy that could injure females seeking tenure by giving their male counterparts an unfair advantage," the study concludes. While only about 12 percent of men currently utilize their postbirth leave option, the study finds that "if men should begin to take leave in much larger numbers, far from leveling the playing field, gender-neutral, postbirth leaves are likely to tilt the field further in favor of men."

Sounds fine, except that the authors seem to be making a regressive point—equating biology with destiny. The report cites studies about how male versus female hormones affect child rearing, and how kids just naturally want to cling to mommies. As UVa Today notes, Rhoads senior had argued in a 2004 book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, "that sex differences in nurturing, aggression, and sex itself are not socially constructed but are instead deeply rooted in biology."

What I find plausible, unfortunately, is that men probably do less child care than women even when they're at home. But eliminating paternity leave as a way to "help" women? You really expect me to fall for that ruse?

Hat tip: Wall Street Journal's The Juggle

Related post: Does Dad Care About Work/Life Balance?

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Comments

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America has one of the worst maternity leave systems in the world, with only Australia being worse than us. I don't see the British or Scandinavians struggling to make things work for 1 year leaves - and you usually need leave that last month before the baby arrives when your back is ready to give out. Perhaps if we had greater leave flexibility, we would learn more how to work in teams, like the Europeans, and be less siloed - but then again, legal silos in law are created by many factors. Finally, I would also suggest that some moms on maternity leave also work on maternity - looks like the study had flaws in the questions used to gain the statistics.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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